The agents encounter a mentally handicapped janitor who is the only suspect in the murders of two propulsion research scientists, but the evidence of advanced theoretical work astounds Mulder and Scully as to the killer's real identity.
At the Mahan Washington Institute of Technology, in Colson, Washington, mentally handicapped janitor Roland Fuller is being scolded by research scientist Dr. Keats for forgetting how to use the facility's keycard locks. Keats then walks in on his colleagues, Frank Nollette and Ronald Surnow, as they are engaged in a heated discussion. The latter two men are arguing over their latest project, a prototype jet engine. Nollette wants to push testing of the engine to break mach 15, but Surnow is unwilling to risk damaging the prototype. Keats and Nollette leave, angry, whilst Surnow continues his mathematical work on a whiteboard. He then enters the facility's wind tunnel to make some adjustments. However, Roland is still in the control room and proceeds to close the wind tunnel's door and activate the turbine, which draws Surnow to his death. Roland erases the last line of calculations written on the whiteboard and writes out a new line.
FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are brought in to investigate the death. Scully notes that another member of the research team died several months earlier in a car accident. She believes Surnow's death to be a case of industrial sabotage. Mulder examines the handwriting on the whiteboard and concludes that it has been written by at least four different people, leading him to suspect that a fourth individual was present. Keats and Fuller both inform the agents that Roland Fuller was the only one left in the facility at the time of Surnow's death, but do not believe him to be capable of murder.
Nevertheless, Mulder and Scully visit the care home where Roland lives, finding him applying star-shaped stickers to a sheet of paper with numbers written on it in several arrangements. They gently ask him about the night of the murder, and he tells them he had not seen anything out of the ordinary. He also inadvertently reveals his mathematical prowess by rapidly counting the stars visible on Scully's blouse; however, his handwriting does not match the fourth sample at the facility. The discussion ends when Roland experiences a violent vision and has what seems to be a fit; his caregiver asks the agents to leave while she attends to him. Later that night, Roland has another vision, a first-person perspective of someone killing Dr. Keats.
Back at the facility, Keats is working late. He does not notice Roland entering the room, and is bludgeoned unconscious with a coffee cup before Roland submerges his head in a tank of liquid nitrogen, killing him. Keats' frozen body is dropped, causing his frozen head to shatter. Roland begins typing at one of the computers.
The next day, the agents are investigating the latest murder when they notice that the computer had been used for five hours after Keats' death. Attempting to open the file that was being worked on, Mulder realizes that the number Roland had written on his page the previous day is the computer file's password. The file turns out to be the work of Arthur Grable, the scientist who had died several months earlier, and it had been worked on constantly since his death.
Looking into Grable's death, the agents find that it was him who had hired Roland. They begin to think that Grable faked his own death and is killing his former colleagues, using Roland as a patsy. Grable's body was never brought to the morgue, nor was a funeral ever held. However, Dr. Nollette brings the agents to a cryopreservation facility where Grable's disembodied head is being stored in a cryogenic chamber, proving that Grable is most definitely dead. A photograph of Grable is found, and after some digital facial manipulation, he appears identical to Roland, leading the agents to discover the two were actually twins. Speaking to Roland again, Mulder becomes convinced the janitor is being controlled by the mind of Grable.
Meanwhile, Nollette sneaks into the cryogenic facility and tampers with Grable's storage unit, thawing his remains. He returns to the Mahon Institute, and enters as Roland is in the process of pushing the prototype engine to mach 15. Nollette admits to stealing Grable's work, and is about to shoot Roland, intending to claim self-defense, when Roland strikes him with a computer keyboard and drags him into the wind tunnel and activates the turbine. As Nollette's grasp slips, the agents arrive in time to convince Roland not to kill Nollette. The cryogenic tank's temperature stabilization fails, and Arthur finally dies. Roland is removed from the care home and taken to a psychiatric institute for testing, apparently now free of Grable's control.
- In the script of this episode, a dream Mulder describes herein, involving him diving into a pool to search for his father, instead involved searching for his sister. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 153)
- The art department found insightful the task of creating many scientific rooms and a wind tunnel for this show. "It was all kind of fun," Art Director Graeme Murray reminisced. "It was interesting for us just learning some of these things; we spent a lot of time in some of the scientific research places around Vancouver and in the universities." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 75-76)
- Feeling the script was "a little bit abstract" in the way it portrayed the somewhat intangible character of Arthur Grable, Director David Nutter tried to focus on making Grable seem more threatening. "We had to create the villain in Roland's head," remembered Nutter, "so I think the more the audience could relate to Roland, and feel and care for him, then it would make the villain that much worse and that much more diabolical." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/7, p. 58) Nutter attempted to concentrate on Zeljko Ivanek's depiction of Roland Fuller generally, later commenting, "Basically when I knew I had him, I thought it was important to push that as much as possible, to help outweigh the frailties in the script." (X-Files Confidential, p. 75)
- Composer Mark Snow wrote an unusually wistful theme to help portray Roland Fuller. "David Nutter [...] said that a weird little theme on piano would be great for this character," Snow explained. "I thought, well, Chris [Carter] is really not into melodic music, so we have to do this just right. So I came up with this simple, very child-like, slightly forlorn, sad piece." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/7, p. 58)
- When, in this episode, Dr. Nollette says, "If I've seen further than other men, it's because I have stood on the shoulders of giants," he is reciting a famous quote originally said by Sir Isaac Newton. Mulder's reference to Beakman's World is also a real-world cultural reference.
- David Nutter was disappointed with this episode's teleplay, stating, "I didn't think it was one of the stronger scripts we had all year." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/7, p. 58) He elaborated by describing it as "probably the weakest script from start to finish that I got." Nutter felt the final product was improved tenfold by Zeljko Ivanek's performance, however, remarking, "I felt like it was a really strong character piece." (X-Files Confidential, p. 75)
- Chris Carter felt similarly. "For me, [Zeljko Ivanek's portrayal] made the episode. Hats off to David Nutter and to the writing staff for falling in and making the episode really work," Carter enthused. (X-Files Confidential, p. 75) He believed "any shock and horror" in the frozen death of Dr. Keats was only fleeting, saying, "[It] was eliminated by the laugh you got when you saw those little pieces on the floor." (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 153) Carter also "loved" the musical theme for Roland Fuller, according to Mark Snow, who concluded about the composition, "That really seemed to work great." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/7, p. 58)
- However, Glen Morgan was not as happy with the outing. "Overall, ultimately it probably wasn't completely effective," he supposed. (X-Files Confidential, p. 75)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen household rating of 7.9, with an audience share of 14. This means that roughly 7.9 percent of all television-equipped households, and 14 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 7.4 million households. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 248)
- Cinefantastique (Vol. 26/27, No. 6/7, p. 57) scores this episode 2 and a half out of 4 stars. The magazine calls the outing "a touching episode" and describes elements such as twins separated in childhood, cryogenically preserved heads and telepathic commands as "some time-honored literary and science fiction concepts." In addition, Cinefantastique refers to Zeljko Ivanek's portrayal of Roland as "brilliant" and the performances by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as "fine acting," crediting these three characterizations for the installment's emotional effectiveness. The magazine cites the death via liquid nitrogen as "a totally sick joke that (for this writer at least) is gallows humor at its finest." Furthermore, the magazine rates this episode as "better" than "Born Again".
- The X-Files Magazine (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 23, p. 50) refers to the head-shattering scene as "memorably grotesque yet humorous" and done in a "Terminator 2 style."
- In his reference book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen, writer Robert Shearman rated this episode a mere 2 out of 5 stars and considered this installment less generic than but not as good as "Born Again". He specifically found fault with Arthur Grable's motive for killing scientists purely because they're carrying on his work. Shearman critiqued, "Isn't that just a tad self-obsessed, even for a psychotic head in liquid nitrogen? The deaths are good [....] The acting is good too: Zeljko Ivanek gives a standout performance as the autistic Roland, treading the thin line between eerie and sympathetic very skilfully."
Cast and CharactersEdit
- One role seen as being pivotal in making this episode come across right, dramatically, was its title character. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 154) Director David Nutter pointed out, "That show was so very dependant on the character of Roland [....] I felt as long as we were able to create a strong character with him, we were going to be halfway home." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/7, p. 58)
- Garry Davey (Dr. Keats) previously played Hunter in The X-Files episode "Eve".
- Željko Ivanek as Roland Fuller/Dr. Arthur Grable
- Micole Mercurio as Mrs. Stodie
- Kerry Sandomirsky as Tracy
- Garry Davey as Dr. Keats
- James Sloyan as Dr. Frank Nollette